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Showcasing Jim DeLong and the "Anne Frank Wall"

When Jim DeLong created the Anne Frank Wall project, he wanted his students to discover two key ideas: writing transcends time and space and has the power to change and motivate readers.

"Anne Frank's writing is especially significant because she wrote as a teenager -- someone our students' age -- of her own daily experiences," explained the eighth grade language arts teacher. "Hopefully, her struggle to write the truth of those experiences inspires our students to try to do the same."

A student poses with an English copy of Anne Frank's Diary in front of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Finishing a long unit on WWII for the first time, DeLong felt he was leaving the students with a frustrating sense of tragic loss. He had used the documentary Anne Frank Remembered to complete Anne's tale from the time her family was discovered and the diary was abandoned, but something was missing.

"I think the seed of the idea for the wall came from that unresolved feeling," DeLong stated. "I wanted the students to feel that we can have an impact beyond the limits of our lives, in ways we never anticipate or know. Most of all, I wanted them to realize in a tangible way, how Anne lives on, how the human spirit can rise above suffering and adversity."

Construction of the Anne Frank Wall got underway. After experiencing the diary in class, listening to knowledgeable speakers, and viewing the documentary, DeLong's students took on the challenge of finding editions of the book in other languages and taking photographs of them in other cities or countries. Provided by students, parents, and even strangers, the photos became part of a "wall" that literally encompassed his classroom at Bret Harte Middle School in San Jose, California.

This photo was taken by a student during a winter break in front of Odawara Castle in Japan.

"Many parents have taken photos while on business travel," said DeLong. "One mother photographed a Spanish version in Brazil, and a father took another version to Samsung, South Korea. Students took photos while on winter vacations to the Sierras, New Hampshire, Japan, and South Korea, and on spring break."

In an effort to reach a greater audience, the Anne Frank Wall became a virtual entity through the hard work of one of DeLong's students, Jon Erickson, who continued to offer technical support to the project even after he graduated from middle school. As he has mastered more complex Web design techniques, Erickson has shared them with his former teacher, and they have worked after school and during the summer to build and improve the site.

DeLong's students hold up the present "Anne Frank Wall."

"Many parents say that this project has really changed their children," DeLong reported. "It's a project that gives students hope and inspires them to make something of their lives. Many have said they're grateful for all the work it took to continue this effort. Naturally, Jewish parents often tell of relatives' experiences and believe that this [project] gives meaning to their family's tragedies." Holocaust survivors who have visited the class have been stunned by the "sea of photos" on display.

DeLong and his students e-mailed other schools to encourage them to establish Anne Frank Wall project too. One class of English-language students from Stensved, Denmark, replied, and a collaboration began. Corresponding with DeLong's class in California, the Danish students tracked down copies of the diary and sent photos via e-mail.

"In this way, when we teach writing, we encourage students, through Anne Frank's efforts, to become self-directed writers," said DeLong. "They also see that the act of writing can change another's life, and that can motivate them to use their writing to change the world for the better."

Photos courtesy of Jim DeLong.

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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